The UK’s Supreme Court has thrown out a Google Safari workaround class action lawsuit in which iPhone owners could have received as much as £500 ($675) each.

The case alleged that Google breached the privacy of iPhone owners by secretly installing web cookies even after users had blocked them in Safari’s settings …


Google uses tracking cookies to serve personalized ads to users based on their browsing habits. Safari lets iPhone owners choose whether to accept or block these ads. But it was discovered that Google had been using a backdoor method to install cookies even after a user had opted to block them.

Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer discovered that although mobile Safari’s default setting blocks cookies from third parties and advertisers, Google and advertising companies Media Innovation Group, Vibrant Media, and Gannett PointRoll fooled mobile Safari into thinking “a person was submitting an invisible form to Google,” letting them in turn install a tracking cookie on users’ iPhones and PCs without consent.

Google does not deny it was doing this, and was fined $22.5M in the US for what the FTC found to be a violation of user privacy.

The search giant won when the case was heard, but the ruling was overturned at appeal. The campaign group behind the suit then referred it to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK.

Google Safari workaround lawsuit dismissed

The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, reports Bloomberg.

The case, which sought billions of pounds, is “doomed to fail,” the Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday […]

“In order to recover compensation for any given individual, it would be necessary to show both that Google made some unlawful use of personal data relating to that individual and that individual suffered some damage as a result,” Judge George Leggatt said in the ruling. 

The implication here is that it would be impossible to demonstrate that consumers were harmed.

That is likely the end of the matter, unless the plaintiffs attempt to refer the case to the European Court of Human Rights. This remains possible post-Brexit, as the court is not an EU institution but instead was created following WWII as a means of protecting human rights following the atrocities committed during that time.

Photo: Shiwa ID/Unsplash

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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